Santa Paula Times

Parents and youth sports advocates tell Council usage fees will hurt kids

December 28, 2011
Santa Paula City Council

Parents and youth sports advocates were out in force Monday night to tell the City Council that park usage fees could mean the end to programs that benefit area kids.

Harding Park - home to Little League and Girls Softball - has adopted the $16 an hour usage fee, and the charge is pending for other parks that primarily host soccer teams.

City Manager Jaime Fontes said he understands the community’s concern: 

“We’re cognizant of the fact that these are tough times,” but the city must balance the needs of the public with its own financial well being. The city is approaching the six month mark of a fiscal year that saw deep cuts to close a projected $1.8 million deficit that led to layoffs, furlough days and salary reductions, among other cost-cutting measures.

Fontes noted Councilman Rick Cook has been meeting with the youth sports groups “that helped us to initiate discussions” that led to fee options. But maintaining athletic fields is pricy, and Las Piedras Park is undergoing major improvements including new irrigation and sod as well as basketball courts.

Such fees also cover such costs, and Fontes said youth sports is not being targeted. “In the very near future” the council will address property it owns and lease payments that include “new figures” for the Chamber of Commerce Depot office, Boys & Girls Clubhouse, and Future Farmers of America facility, all which now pay a minimal token annual rent.

Vice Mayor Ralph Fernandez said the city must also examine costs of just maintaining parks, even if they were not used for youth sports.

When it comes to those involving youth sports, the new fees are “something that has to be considered very carefully,” Lisa Castillo, vice president of the Santa Paula Little League, told the council. Sports programs in general are beneficial to youth, and a busy child does not get into trouble - offshoots of the advantages of park use that Castillo said should be studied.

Mayor Bob Gonzales, the city’s former police chief, agreed: “All of us grew up in Santa Paula, and we know the many benefits” provided by sports activities. Such benefits can’t always be measured in dollars, he noted.

Castillo and several other speakers told the council that volunteers donate their own time, labor and even material for field upkeep, activities that must be considered by the city. The council agreed, and Gonzales said the city must “make sure we are not letting these volunteers do unpaid work” and then charging them for work they are doing themselves.

Jerry Marquez said he estimates that more than 90 percent of the children he coaches in soccer are from low-income families who “can hardly pay their fees,” and it is not uncommon for coaches to absorb costs. But with the new fees, “I would be afraid a lot of kids would not play because of money,” a blow to the teams that Marquez  said are “well respected” and known throughout Ventura County. 

The council addressed the three fee options reported by Interim Community Services Director Ed Mount, as well as required nonprofit status and program size as it would relate to pricing structures. The council told the crowd they appreciated their input and would incorporate same as they continue to study the issue, which will return to the council at a future meeting.